Courtesy of Mary Costantino Co-Founder and Director of Mangrove Fund
Starting a non-profit, while trying to juggle a demanding medical career and a growing family was never part of my master plan. But then, how many things in our lives go as we envision them? This is a brief story of how my husband Bill and I went from life as two busy professionals to falling in love with a Haitian orphan and a desperately poor country, adopting both, and launching a non-profit program. As it turns out, it has been a rewarding journey.
I grew up in a big, blended family with adopted, foster and biological children –and a lot of love. My family is culturally diverse, and I always knew that I would adopt when it came time to start a family.
My husband Bill and I planned on adopting an infant girl, but then we met
Richelor, a precious little boy from Haiti. He came from the countryside and did
not integrate well into the orphanage environment. Despondent and
expressionless, he was severely underweight. He had one tuft of red hair due to
an iron deficiency. He eyes were big, beautiful and empty.
It took us almost two years to finalize Richelor’s adoption. During this time we
went to Haiti every three months to see Richelor. In December 2008 when
Richelor was 3-1/2, I was finally able to bring him home. I arrived into Port-au-
Prince at 8 pm at night and went straight to the orphanage where Richelor was
unceremoniously handed over to me along with a large pile of papers, all this
with only the light of a cell phone. Richelor and I were dropped off at a hotel then
boarded a plane back to the US. The two of us shared Goldfish crackers and
held hands as we flew over the Atlantic to our new life.
The Mangrove Fund
When we brought Richelor home, we carried with us a great concern for the
Haitian people. Haitians face enormous challenges including a lack of education, sanitation, and crushing poverty. The country sits in an area vulnerable to severe tropical storms and hurricanes. Most of the original forests that covered Haiti are gone. When storms hit, the hills erode and top soil is now largely gone. Dictators have stripped the country of whatever wealth existed. Yet the Haitians are a very warm and loving people who produce vibrant art, music and dance. Somehow they continue to keep their courage despite the desperate odds. We wanted to do something that would help the Haitian people to have greater opportunities for healthy lives.
In 2007, we enlisted the help of a few friends to create The Mangrove Fund. Our non-profit provides sustainable assistance and support to struggling Haitian communities.
We focus on education, health care and community development.We started our own non-profit because we wanted financial transparency to ensure that all the money was spent wisely. We are committed to the concept
that 100% of the funds we raise be applied directly to Haiti; all administrative
costs are paid by us.
I’m often asked how we came up with the name of our program. The mangrove is
an enduring tree that thrives in many tropical climates around the world. It
creates its own self-sustaining ecosystem and protects coastlines and wildlife. Its
roots begin above ground but grow deep and strong, often in salt water. Despite
extreme deforestation in Haiti, the mangrove still thrives. Surviving despite
overwhelming challenges describes the spirit of the Haitian people.
Earthquakes Ravage Haiti
While we think of hurricanes and political unrest as great struggles for Haiti, few
of us realized that Haiti sits on an earthquake prone region of the Caribbean. In
January 2010, a 7.0 earthquake ravaged the country. The Haitian government has
estimated that 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and 1,000,000
became homeless. 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings
collapsed or were severely damaged.
As I watched the images on TV, my heart sank. Richelor, now 4-years old, saw
many familiar faces, people he recognized from the orphanage. When he asked
what was happening my husband said there was a “big accident” and that many
buildings, cars, roads and other things were broken. Richelor asked us what he
could do to “fix the broken things.” Together, we came up with the idea for “Coins
for Haiti.” We outfitted Richelor with a pretzel jar for donations and send him off
to school. On his first day he raised $90. Soon, his classmates’ families joined in
and the change began to mount. Several TV stations picked up the story and
their coverage, combined with a social media campaign promoting The
Mangrove Fund (using Facebook and Twitter) helped us raise more than
Helping Haiti to rebuild will take a long time. It’s critical that we continue to
support and assist the Haitians. We are committed to raising funds and
overseeing that all of the funds we raise are used wisely and for the greater good
of the community. To that end, we need your help. Here are some ideas of what
you can do through the Mangrove Fund.
Nurture the spirit of giving in your child
Teach your child the importance—and joy—of giving. One proud mom said her
son, who saved up a year’s allowance to buy a Wii game, instead donated his
money to “Coins for Haiti” because Haitian kids “needed it more.”
Give a micro-loan
A $50, $25 or even $10 dollar loan can help someone achieve financial
independence. What better investment is there than investing in another human
being? Sites such as Kiva make it easy to help entrepreneurs
across the globe.
Visit www.mangrovefund.org and sign up for our free e-newsletter. We’d love to
share our latest projects with you and get your ideas for future projects and
programs. 100% of our donations go to people we personally know and
guarantee that the money will be used well.
As for Richelor? He is thriving and loves playing alongside his toddler brother and
enjoying family events. What a joy to have a family and a non-profit that can
help more Haitian children have hope and dreams!